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Bringing Bacon to the Fair


Big Bite Events throws a bacon festival inside the San Diego County Fair

Sponsor Slater's 50/50 grills up its signature burger — made of 50-percent beef and 50-percent ground bacon — for more than 4,500 attendees at Big Bite Bacon Fest in the arena at San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, Calif.

REPORTING FROM DEL MAR, CALIF. — It’s not unusual to be greeted by delicious sights and smells upon entering a fair. This year, the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, Calif., kicked it up a notch with the Big Bite Bacon Festival, produced by Big Bite Events. The festival was held in the arena on Father’s Day, June 16, and families swarmed to taste the swine.

Big Bite Events’ Mark Entner said that total attendance for the inaugural event, which was sponsored by Farmer John, was more than 4,500.

“It was our expectation that it would be popular, but you never know with a first-time event,” said Entner, who added that around 75 percent of tickets sold at the door.

Attendees received unlimited samples from 29 food vendors, including Chicken Charlie’s, Driveway Chef, Rubicon Deli, and Slater’s 50/50, which also served as one of the event’s sponsors. Breweries came out in full force, providing samples for 50 beers, many of which were local San Diego suds.

bacon_wrapped_pickles.jpegBacon-wrapped pickles from Chicken Charlie's. (Photo by Big Bite Events)

There were two sessions to choose from — one in the early afternoon and one around dinner time — and general admission tickets ranged from $40-$55 depending on if the ticketholder would be drinking, and tickets for VIPs (Very Important Porklovers) ranged from $65-$80. VIPs were able to enter the festival one hour earlier than the general public. VIPs also took home some ‘swine swag,’ including a bag and special tasting cup. Tickets to each session, which lasted a total of four hours, also included entry to the fair itself.

“Being the fourth largest fair in California, it’s always important to us to bring unique and wonderful things to the San Diego County Fair — there’s a reason we had more than 1.5 million people last year,” said Linda Zweig, in charge of media relations and public information for the fair. “Fairs and food and fun are what it’s all about here.”

She said that having food events aren’t a problem with the many vendors at the fair, and that lots of them, such as Chicken Charlie’s, even get involved in the arena events.

It was an easy decision to partner with Big Bite Events due to the company’s history with the fair.

Big Bite Events produced the festival in partnership with the fair, splitting net profits 50-50 with Big Bite Events taking on most of the risk. The company is a foodie-oriented division of Absolute Event Solutions (AES), which has worked with San Diego County Fair to produce the Passport to Savings promotions for a number of years. Entner said it made sense to have the inaugural event at the San Diego County Fair and build the existing relationship, but added that the plan is to expand the event to multiple fairs.

bacon_wedding.jpegAdrianne Dunvan and Eddie Quinones from Vista, Calif., have a bacon-themed wedding at Big Bite Bacon Fest. (Photo by Big Bite Events)

Big Bite Events staff integrated themselves with the San Diego County Fair working on an almost everyday basis with the marketing department and even attending fair operations meetings.

“We went into this trying to see where it makes sense to promote Big Bite Bacon Festival within the marketing campaign the fair already had, and then we did additional marketing with everything from street teams to social media, print to radio,” said Entner.

Not only did vendors get their booths for free if they sampled food, they got to benefit from Big Bite Events’ marketing efforts.

Rebecca Lynn, in charge of marketing at Rubicon Deli, said that almost everything was taken care of for the deli once they decided to join in for the festival.

“They took care of everything for us, from hand-washing stations to marketing. They even sent us suggestions of what to write on our Facebook page and had opportunities for vendors to be on the radio,” said Lynn.

Ratings wesbite Yelp served as a sponsor in a marketing exchange. Community manager Trish Saunderson had an iPad at her booth with the Yelp app up so that people could stop by and vote on their favorite dishes. Though the people’s choice vote was just for bragging rights, there was a real bacon dish contest with a big prize.

big_daddy_bacon.JPGMarine Ryan "Cham-wow" Chamness wins the title of Big Daddy Bacon.

In both amateur and professional divisions, the best dish took home $1,200 and an invitation to the World Food Championships in Las Vegas, as well as a travel stipend. Winners included Ricardo Heredia of Alchemy for the professional division, and amateur cook Jodi Taffel.

Each session had its own entertainment, with Marine Ryan Chamness winning the Big Daddy Bacon male beauty pageant during the first session, and a bacon-themed wedding for Adrianne Dunvan and Eddie Quinones from Vista, Calif., in the second session.

Entner said that the unique, food-related events that Big Bite Events produces helps fairs and festivals stay relevant. Even after eight hours of bacon tasting, not to mention setup and teardown, he’s still reminiscing about the festival’s food.

“I would say my favorite was the bacon-wrapped pickle by Chicken Charlie’s,” he added.

Interviewed for this story: Mark Entner and Kelleigh Stroebel, (949) 514-9659; Rebecca Lynn, (858) 488-3354; Trish Saunderson, (415) 908-3801; Linda Zweig, (858) 792-4262 

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